The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group that manages development of the main specifications used by the Web, has proposed a new plan that would see the HTML 5 spec positioned as a Recommendation—which in W3C’s lingo represents a complete, finished standard—by the end of 2014. The group plans a follow-up, HTML 5.1, for the end of 2016.

Under the new plan, the HTML Working Group will produce an HTML 5.0 Candidate Recommendation by the end of 2012 that includes only those features that are specified, stable, and implemented in real browsers. Anything controversial or unstable will be excluded from this specification. The group will also remove anything known to have interoperability problems between existing implementations. This Candidate Recommendation will form the basis of the 5.0 specification.

In tandem, a draft of HTML 5.1 will be developed. This will include everything from the HTML 5.0 Candidate Recommendation, plus all the unstable features that were excluded. In 2014, this will undergo a similar process. Anything unstable will be taken out, to produce the HTML 5.1 Candidate Recommendation, and an HTML 5.2 draft will emerge, with the unstable parts left in.

This will then continue, for HTML 5.3, 5.4, and beyond.

Previously, HTML 5 wasn’t due to be completed until 2022 (yes—a decade from now). The Candidate Recommendation was due to be delivered around now, with much of the next ten years spent developing an extensive test suite to allow conformance testing of implementations. The new HTML 5.1 will be smaller as a number of technologies (such as Web Workers and WebSockets) were once under the HTML 5 umbrella but have now been broken out into separate specifications. It will also have less stringent testing requirements. Portions of the specification where interoperability has been demonstrated “in the wild” will not need new tests, and instead testing will focus on new features.

HTML 5’s standardization has been a fractious process, with many arguments and squabbles as different groups with different priorities struggled to find common ground. The new plan notes that the “negative tone of discussion has been an ongoing problem” and says that the Working Group will need to be better to combat anti-social behavior. The proposed plan was, however, not universally welcomed. Some Working Group members were unhappy with the proposed treatment of their particular areas of expertise.

For Web developers, the impact of the new plan may be limited; developers are already used to working from draft specifications on a day-to-day basis. The most immediate consequence is those pieces deemed stable enough for inclusion in version 5.0 should acquire a richer test suite. In turn, that will help browser developers track down (and, with luck, remedy) any remaining bugs and incompatibilities.